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"It was the catalyst": Occupational Therapy's role in my recovery

Occupational Therapy a profession which is often misunderstood or undervalued. This needs to change. In an eating disorder context, occupational therapists (OTs) typically work on inpatient wards, which is where I met one for the first time. I am here today having made a full recovery from my eating disorder — and having OT was the catalyst.

I had seen several professionals, had tried different therapies, and nothing was working for me. During treatment, I didn’t like the medical approach that other professionals took – I felt like my value was based on numbers. I really struggled to engage in talking therapy, it just wasn’t for me (however every person is different, and I do know several people that talking therapy has helped!). When an OT initially approached me, I was completely consumed by my eating disorder. I was quiet, I was distressed, and I was extremely low. I was staying in hospital where I felt trapped. I had completely lost my sense of self. She began to ask me about my interests. At first, I had forgotten what I was interested in, I hadn’t engaged in any hobbies or social activities for so long, and I felt so low that I barely considered what made me feel happy. I discussed with the OT what activities I previously enjoyed before my eating disorder took over — where I used to work, and how I used to function in daily life. This conversation really struck me, as a reminder of what was important to me, outside of my eating disorder.

Over the course of my hospital admission, my OT and I worked together to tackle the problems I was facing.

A common misconception is that the role of OTs on psychiatric wards is doing activities with patients to fill up the day. It is about so much more than that. An OT will find out what motivates you, what is meaningful to you and identify any barriers which may be preventing you from functioning in daily life. My OT helped me to re-engage in hobbies that I was passionate about, such as baking, and supported me with my struggles such as correct food portioning and eating in front of others. My OT also supported me with social participation as we worked on anger and anxiety management strategies. I began to regain my independence which was so important to me.

I am sharing my story as I would like to spread the word far and wide about the value of OT in eating disorder recovery. There is evidence for this in numerous research articles, but for the purposes of this blog post, I am presenting my own personal experience in an aim to change people’s perspectives on OT.

My OT approached my treatment with a “can do” attitude, focusing on my strengths, and enabled me to find myself again and re-participate in life.

I was inspired by my OT – so much so that I currently in my final year of university studying Occupational Therapy. I am passionate about my course and aim to work with service users with eating disorders when I qualify. However, the role of OT in eating disorders is still emerging, as there are few practitioners in the field. When I was discharged from hospital, there was no OT in the community team for me to see. I feel that this would have had a fundamental role in speeding up my recovery process and preventing relapse during the difficult transition from hospital to home. The Royal College of Occupational Therapists emphasises how OT input can alleviate pressures on primary care by preventing mental health problems from escalating. The future of our health services should involve the profession more.

Although I am only one case of the invaluable impact OT has on eating disorder recovery, I know that I am not alone. I will continue to advocate for this role, as I believe there needs to be a change — in our healthcare services and in eating disorder services — and I want to make sure that I’m part of it.

Contributed by Amy

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Amy's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.